Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), under instruction from the government has asked media channels to desist from covering the stampede at Mina during the Hajj pilgrimage, since some media channels are “indirectly accusing Saudi Arabia of mismanagement”. Despite carefully wording the order, the fact is that media channels are openly and direct accusing the Saudi Arabia of mismanagement – and most importantly, they should be doing that. The government may good-naturedly wish to save their Saudi brother from their blushes, but the question is why they should? What has the Kingdom done to escape criticism?

All evidence points to the fact that there are no mitigating factors. Had stampedes at Hajj been an isolated incident we could have forgiven the Kingdom, since accidents happen at large gatherings and no one can guarantee complete safety. Yet the fact is that a couple hundred deaths – especially at Mina – have become a regular occurrence, happening four or five times every decade. For the longest time the Kingdom has been awarded a lenient outlook, sometimes just because of the fact that they are the ‘guardians of the holy cities’, but a thousand deaths cannot go unaccounted for, especially when reports indicate that the stampede was caused by the authorities admitting large amounts of people into the complex and then blocking certain exit points to facilitate Saudi royalty.

Yes, the constitution contains a clause that says the media should refrain from publishing any material that might damage relations with friendly nations, but that clause has been gathering dust ever since it was written. It has never been actively used, and it is hypocritical to use it to shelter Saudi Arabia when any of our other allies – such as the United States – have never been afforded such luxury. Even if this clause was frequently used, criticizing the management at Mina – something the whole world is doing –does not damage the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia at all. The order by the government is designed to protect our Saudi brothers from some much deserved criticism – and most importantly, to scuttle independent journalistic accountability.

VIP tents, luxury suits overlooking Mecca, private tours to dignitaries, the Hajj pilgrimage has been turned into a money making machine. If the quest for increasing revenue has prompted the Saudi Authorities to ignore proper safeguards then they must be held accountable. Pakistani government, which should be hounding the Saudis, is instead covering their tracks, and in the process is showing incalculable apathy or the Pakistani pilgrims that were crushed in the tragic stampede.